As someone who was born in Britain and spent his childhood there in the fifties, I remember being taken by my parents to see several of these films when they were released, particularly "The Dam Busters" and "The Colditz Story". So I do appreciate this collection of British World War II films by Anchor Bay, and the memories that came flooding back.
All five films are a crisp black and white, full-screen, mono sound, but--apart from a nice booklet--the DVDs have no extras. As of this writing, Richard (now Lord)Attenborough, Sir Donald Sinden and Richard Todd are still "with us", so their comments would have been fascinating. Some extras--comments on these films and the British war film genre in general--would have been a "nice touch", to say the least.
"The Cruel Sea"--quite simply one of the finest and most realistic films about naval warfare ever made. As the captain of a corvette assigned to protect supply convoys from German U-boats, Jack Hawkins gives one of his best performances--you will not forget the scene where he must decide the fate of some stranded sailors--this is real war, where good people must make heart-breaking decisions. Mr. Hawkins receives fine support from Donald Sinden and Denholm Elliott. A real classic.
"The Dam Busters"--that superb actor, Michael Redgrave, stars as British scientist/engineer/inventor Barnes Wallis, who fought an uphill battle with the British military (and far too much "red tape")with his innovative plan to destroy dams in Germany's Ruhr Valley, and cripple Hitler's industry. After various setbacks, he proves that his "bouncing" bomb does indeed work. That's when Richard Todd as Wing Commander Guy Gibson and his squadron of Lancaster bombers become involved, with much intensive training, and ultimately one of the most dangerous missions of the war. "The Dam Busters" is another true classic--and a treat for aviation fans.
"The Colditz Story"--John Mills, Eric Portman, Bryan Forbes and a number of other fine British actors portray prisoners in Germany's infamous Colditz Castle. Their captors tell them that escape is impossible ! Oh really ? John Mills and his compatriots beg to differ ! This film isn't quite a classic, but the performances and situations will still demand your attention--and, again, the film is based a real events.
"The Ship That Died of Shame"--the titular vessel is a small, well-armed speed boat that served with distinction during the war. It is "saved" from mothballs after the war by its old crew, played by Richard Attenborough, George Baker and Bill Owen. However, Mr. Attenborough's intentions for the boat are totally dishonourable--he sees big money in smuggling, and drags his old mates (Messrs. Baker and Owen)into this lucrative, but high-risk business. As time goes by, the "business" becomes even nastier, with the main characters turning on one another and bringing "shame" to their once-proud ship. The film is a fascinating exercise in the study of human greed and immorality.
"Went the Day Well"--here is the "sleeper" in this collection. I had never seen this one--what a movie ! This film has consistent suspense, worthy of Alfred Hitchcock ! It was released in 1943, when the war with Germany was still raging, and there are various scenes and situations which I suppose can be considered propaganda--an attempt to boost the spirits of the British public and remind them how evil the Nazis were (as if this was necessary after the Blitz !). A small English village is visited by British troops on "manouvers"--except they aren't British at all ! They are Nazis who have sneaked into Britain to establish a "beach-head" for a large-scale German invasion. They threaten the villagers with death, and are only too pleased to demonstrate that they mean business ! Even children are threatened (of course, after the war, with the discovery of the concentration camps, nothing in this film can be considered an "exaggeration" ). Leslie Banks stars, with a very nice turn by David Farrar as a particularly reprehensible Nazi. "Went the Day Well" is not the most famous title in this collection--but it just might be the most unforgettable !
Britain produced a lot of World War II films in the fifties. Many of them had a very authentic look and feel about them. This was likely because many of the people involved had experienced "the real thing", with memories and details still fresh in their minds.
I would certainly welcome another collection--"Above Us the Waves"--"The Sea Shall Not Have Them"--"Cockleshell Heroes"--"The Wooden Horse"--"The One That Got Away"--"Reach for the Sky"--"Carve Her Name With Pride"--"The Battle of the River Plate"--"Yangtze Incident"--"Ill Met by Moonlight"--there are many titles that come to mind.
Bottom line--this is a fine collection of movies that show, from a number of viewpoints, how bravely and competently British people coped with the war, and an evil enemy. Rule Britannia indeed !
A very sad footnote, dated 4 December 2009--Mr. Richard Todd has passed away at the grand age of 90. Mr. Todd was one of Britain's most talented and likeable film actors in the post-war years.